After Silverstone, the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team begins preparations for its second 'home' race; next week's Santander German Grand Prix at Hockenheim. Another historic event, the German Grand Prix has previously been held on four...
After Silverstone, the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes team begins preparations for its second 'home' race; next week's Santander German Grand Prix at Hockenheim.
Another historic event, the German Grand Prix has previously been held on four circuits -- two iterations of the Nurburgring. (22 races for the Nordschleife, one for the new circuit, in 1985), Hockenheim (30 races) and a singular event, in 1959, at Berlin's Avus circuit. This year will mark the 55th running of the German Grand Prix.
While the Hockenheim circuit was not introduced onto the Formula 1 calendar until 1970, it first existed in recognisable form way back in 1938 and gained its familiar concrete stadium section in 1966. It existed largely unchanged until 2002, when it was dramatically shortened from its mighty 6.8km incarnation to 4.6km by Formula 1 architect Hermann Tilke.
McLaren has won six times, including a victory for McLaren-Mercedes with Mika Hakkinen in 1998. As a manufacturer, Mercedes-Benz first triumphed in Germany back in 1954, when Juan Manuel Fangio won at the old Nurburgring in a W196.
Since last year, organisers elected to alternate the German round of the world championship between the Nurburgring (organised by ADAC in odd-numbered years) and Hockenheim (organised by AvD in even-numbered years). Due to a disagreement over naming rights, this is the first German Grand Prix to take place since 2006; last year's Nurburgring race was called the European Grand Prix.
Does your win at Silverstone take some of the pressure off your shoulders?
"Pressure always exists because you need to win consistently. In Formula 1, you're only as good as your last race and Silverstone already felt like an old memory by the time I was testing at Hockenheim on Tuesday. Generally, however, a race win briefly takes the load off everyone's shoulders because it allows you to push forward without looking back at the problems you may have faced in the previous race. But you can never get complacent and we'll be pushing hard again in Germany next week."
This is your first time at Hockenheim in a Formula 1 car, what are your initial impressions?
"I was at Hockenheim in 2005 when I won a Formula 3 EuroSeries race and in 2006 with GP2 when I finished second and third. It's actually quite a straightforward circuit to get into, and it helps that our car just feels so awesome at the moment. There's a bit of everything around here and it's quite fun to throw the car into some of the high-speed corners, like Turn One and Turn 12 -- the high-speed right-hander into the stadium section."
You are going to the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Farnborough Air Show ahead of the Santander German Grand Prix -- how do events like these affect your preparations?
"I'm going to Goodwood on Sunday -- it's an event I love because, unlike a grand prix, it lets you get closer to the fans, and I always get a real boost from their enthusiasm and positivity. It's also a place where you can meet other racing drivers in a really relaxed atmosphere -- that's not something you experience during a race weekend either. On the Monday I'm going to Farnborough, which should also be pretty cool. But I'm still doing less than I was before Silverstone and I'll have several days to relax before Hockenheim."
Will there be any special promotion activities with Mercedes-Benz for the fans?
"It will be great to be at Hockenheim where I will compete in my first German Grand Prix. I'm looking forward to the support of the Germans and especially the Mercedes fans. I know that many of them will be on the Mercedes grandstand from where they have a great view and there will also be a fantastic entertainment programme behind the grandstand. I will be on stage during the weekend and answer questions about my practice and qualifying. It is always nice to get close to the fans as it gives me additional motivation."
At the start of the season, you talked about needing time to settle in -- after your impressive qualifying performance at Silverstone, do you now feel more at ease with the car and team than before?
"In some ways, yes. For sure, in the dry at Silverstone I couldn't believe how good the car felt and just how much I could keep pushing it. It felt better than ever. But the race showed I can still do more to improve -- both in terms of my driving style and the way the team works with me. I know I have the speed, I just need to work harder to apply it across the whole race weekend."
Does the track suit the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes technical package?
"Our car's real strengths are in high-speed corners and under braking. Hockenheim is more of a technical, medium-speed circuit so I wouldn't expect us to have any particular advantage -- but the car does feel very good here. It has a similar downforce level to Magny-Cours, where we weren't really able to show our true potential, so it will be interesting to see where we sit in comparison to our rivals."
The team tried a new dorsal fin engine cover during the test -- did it make a difference?
"The new top body engine cover has been designed to improve aero performance, particularly through high-speed corners -- and we feel it had an advantage during the Hockenheim test. But it's still too early to say; maybe Hockenheim is not the best place to try this new wing and we need to see if it is affected by crosswinds -- it was quite windy at the Hockenheim test, but we didn't seem to be too affected by the wind. It's definitely encouraging for the future."
Martin Whitmarsh, CEO Formula 1, Vodafone McLaren Mercedes
Nine races gone and nine to go: what's your evaluation of the team's progress at this halfway stage in the world championship?
"We're leading the drivers' championship with Lewis and are third in the constructors' championship. And while we remain encouraged by the pace we've recently shown and the victories we've achieved, there's a feeling that we could still be doing more to consistently score strongly. Several opportunities for victory, most notably in Istanbul and Montreal, have slipped through our fingers; we've suffered a few penalties -- which we took squarely on the chin -- and, through no fault of his own, Heikki has finished out of the points on several occasions, either due to us being unable to provide him with a suitable car or through circumstances that were largely beyond his control. So as we head into the second half of the season, our primary objective must be to work harder to iron out these imperfections, to provide our drivers with race-winning machinery at every opportunity and to sharpen our focus on the world titles -- both of which are still achievable for us. I think Heikki's pole position and Lewis's win in the Santander British Grand Prix win were good for our momentum; the atmosphere back in Woking on Monday morning was incredibly upbeat and positive because we all know we're strongly back in the hunt for the world championship. And we're not going to easily let go of that."
Has it been difficult to get an accurate read on the team's overall competitiveness in the last few races?
"I know the fans would love to see a straight fight between ourselves and our rivals -- but fate, and the weather, has conspired against that happening in the four most recent races in Monaco, Montreal, Magny-Cours and Silverstone -- so we can still only estimate where we sit in terms of overall performance. But the reality is, we're keenly aware of the steps we've taken to improve the car and feel confident that we've currently got a fantastic race car that can be developed sufficiently for the rest of the season. We're confident we'll be competitive in Hockenheim next week, but one of the beauties of Formula 1 is that you just can't tell until the red lights go out on Sunday afternoon."
In which areas are you particularly satisfied with in-season development?
"While MP4-23 immediately kicked off the year in winning style, we were under no illusions that it would only be through continuous season-long development that we would remain competitive. Clearly, Ferrari has a very strong package and BMW Sauber remains a constant threat to both teams, but the upgrades we made prior to the French and British Grands Prix, particularly in the detail aerodynamic work, has given the car a considerable step-change and made it feel much better balanced for the drivers. Silverstone also saw the introduction of new fuel and lubricants from our partners at Mobil 1 and that has also made an incremental but useful improvement to engine performance. In Hockenheim this week, we evaluated a number of further aerodynamic improvements, some of which were plain to see, and it's rewarding to see just how far we've already pushed development of the 23. While we have already started looking in greater detail at our 2009 package, there are currently no plans to ease up on seasonal development of this year's car."
Norbert Haug, Vice President Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
At Hockenheim the second half of this season begins. What can we expect?
"There have been four different winners from three different teams in the first nine races; two drivers, Lewis Hamilton, who will come to Hockenheim as the championship leader, and Felipe Massa have won three races respectively. Massa and Kimi R0x00e4ikk0x00f6nen are tied on points with Lewis, and fourth placed Robert Kubica is two points behind. Following Heikki's first Formula 1 pole position and Lewis's outstanding victory at Silverstone the team comes to Hockenheim with the intention to maintain this trend. Lewis's success with an advantage of more than 68 seconds was the most dominant win in Formula 1 for 13 years when in 1995 Damon Hill won the Australian Grand Prix by a margin of two laps."
Ten years ago McLaren Mercedes won at Hockenheim the last time. Where do you take your optimism from?
"Two pole positions but only two podium positions and one fastest lap in the last two races at Hockenheim are naturally not what we and the fans will be expecting at the second of the team's two home grands prix. At the tests before Magny-Cours, Silverstone and during this week at Hockenheim we have further improved the MP4-23 mechanically and aerodynamically, and the drivers are happy with the balance of the car. There are great challenges for drivers and cars at Hockenheim. In 2006 the average lap speed during qualifying was 222kph, 69 percent of a lap are run under full throttle; both figures are above the average of all other Formula 1 circuits. Consequently Hockenheim is a so called 'engine circuit', and that certainly suits us. Five times per lap the drivers reach 280kph and more, the longest full throttle part -- before the hairpin -- is 1100 metres corresponding to 15 seconds of full throttle. This season so far Lewis has led for most laps compared to the competition, 179 from 571 in total that is 31 percent, a little less than one third of all laps and kilometres that have been completed. It would be nice if he would add one more leading lap at Hockenheim -- the last one of the race."
What is the significance for Mercedes-Benz of this 'home' grand prix at Hockenheim?
"As already at Silverstone there are many spectators on the grandstands who also come because of us or even especially because of us. Among them are several thousand Mercedes-Benz employees who have bought tickets to watch Lewis and Heikki. We have prepared a special programme for the spectators with surplus value without additional charge at the Mercedes Grandstand. New this year is the 'Kangaroo TV' which will be offered by us for a special price and keeps you informed so that you don't miss anything during practice, qualifying and race. Additional highlights of the programme are the visits of Lewis, Heikki, test drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Gary Paffett as well as all the Mercedes-Benz DTM drivers from Bernd Schneider to Ralf Schumacher. Also present will be Formula 1 double World Champion Mika H0x00e4kkinen. In addition to this there are co-driving opportunities in the Safety Driving Centre close to the grandstand. We don't forget that the most important work will take place on the track, however we do everything to make the race a terrific experience also apart from simply the sporting spectacle."